The Business of Health: New Technology Developments that may affect the future of care

By Glenn Robinson

Healthcare is changing rapidly with the constant development of new technology. While these developments allow us to better diagnose and treat patients, connect with the community, and promote wellness, it is important to remember that nothing can replace the trust and communication between a patient and their doctor when it comes to your health.

This month, we explore three new developments in healthcare technology and how they may affect your future care.

Prescription Kiosks

You’ve long been able to get food, drinks, money, and even DVDs out of machine kiosks. Now, there is something else Waco residents can get from similarly designed machines – their prescription medications.

In April, Baylor Scott & White Health installed the first remote prescription kiosk of its kind in Texas on the campus of the Texas Farm Bureau Headquarters in Waco, with more kiosks to be installed throughout the region in the coming months. 

The pharmacy kiosks are being introduced at various locations to make filling prescriptions easier for more patients. Making managing your health easier and more convenient is one of the primary focuses of the nation’s leading healthcare providers, as well as federal and state regulatory agencies.

In fact, the kiosks themselves are as much a regulatory breakthrough as a technological one. After a year of evaluation, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy approved new rules that took effect in June of last year allowing Texas pharmacies to deliver medications outside of retail pharmacy locations via a kiosk. These kiosks must maintain the security of the medication and the efficacy of the medication during its storage.

While different kiosks may have different features, Baylor Scott & White kiosks fill all prescriptions and make prescriptions available within hours of pharmacy receipt. They can be picked up 24-hours a day, and pharmacist consultations are available via phone or video.

As they grow in number, kiosks will hopefully help make sticking to a medication plan easier to swallow.

Trackable Pill

Privacy concerns over technology are not just limited to social media and smart phones. A recent poll found that doctors are evenly divided over the cost and ethical implications of smart pills – an innovative technology which embeds sensors into medication to allow healthcare providers to monitor when it is taken.

The so-called smart pill contains a sensor about the size of a grain of sand that detects, records, and transmits the date and time a pill is ingested to a patch worn by the patient. The patch then relays the data via a smart phone application to doctors, family members, or other caregivers.

The greatest potential benefit of smart pills is that patients may be more likely to take their medicine if they know it is being tracked. Experts estimate that medication noncompliance costs $100 billion a year – much of it due to patients getting sicker and needing additional treatment or hospitalization because they didn’t take their medicine appropriately.

In fact, according to some estimates, patients not taking their medications as prescribed leads to about 10% of hospitalizations and 125,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. each year.

On the other hand, smart pills have the potential to lead to false-negative readings and can stir anxiety among patients about having their behavior tracked. There also is no evidence thus far that this technology will help patients take their medication as prescribed.

Regardless, with the Food and Drug Administration approving the first smart pill in late 2017, this technology’s potential is something worth tracking.

Clinical Wearables

One smart device maker recently issued an odd warning – its new smart watch technology to detect atrial fibrillation is not intended for people who have atrial fibrillation.

The truth is that a gadget worn on the wrist is simply not accurate enough to assess serious medical conditions. It’s mostly a vehicle for conversations with your doctor.

Stanford researchers working with the smartwatch maker to detect atrial fibrillation probably won’t cause an epidemic of worrisome diagnoses, but it didn’t really answer most of the questions doctors or consumers have about using the watch as intended.

With that in mind, the smartwatch company is now teaming with a large healthcare company to a conduct a study of 180,000 people over the age of 65 to get a better understanding of its own device’s impact on health.

As wearable smart technology makers push more deeply into healthcare, their creations are crossing the line into becoming medical devices. Although they may fit the definition of medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed little interest in regulating low-risk fitness monitors that are promoted for general “wellness.”

In practice, this means that companies can make exaggerated claims about the effectiveness of their devices for promoting wellness while doctors are puzzled about how to effectively use the sometimes-unreliable data the devices provide.

So, for the time being, patients’ best bet is trusting their instincts and their medical providers – not their smart watches – for diagnosing potential serious health events.  


Glenn Robinson is the President of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest. He has over 30 years experience in hospital and health care management, and currently serves on several Boards associated with the Texas Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association. In addition, Glenn is Past-Chair and an active member of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Prosper Waco Board.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

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